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Second Most Spoken Languages in Africa

Don Osborne discusses a news feature on the Olivet Nazarene University website showing a map of “The Second Most Spoken Languages Around the World.” He points out key problems from the map:

The first issue is assuming that “The most spoken language in any country is often obvious; usually, it’s the official language of the country.” In Africa this often is not the case, if by “most spoken” one counts number of speakers. An example is Mali, whose linguistic profile was explored on this blog in discussing the long-tail of languages – Bambara is certainly more used than the official French.

Official language is a category that doesn't lend itself to ranking use of languages in Africa, beyond the (admittedly important) context of official use and its spillover to popular use. In the case of two countries at least, this runs into additional problems:
•South Africa has 11 official languages (the Olivet site incorrectly lists only one of them – Zulu – as official). So one of the official languages will be second most spoken. Perhaps that is Xhosa as indicated, but the model focusing on official languages hasn't worked here.
•Rwanda has three official languages (Kinyarwanda, French, and English), and Central African Republic two (Sango and French). Since the site doesn't consider these official languages in discussing second most widely spoken, it is reduced to stating that Swahili is “second” most used in Rwanda, and that indigenous languages are used in CAR – which doesn't tell us much.

Read part 2 of his discussion here.

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